By William Croyle
FLORENCE - Bryan Blavatt has been superintendent of Boone County Schools since 1996. In the last seven years, enrollment in the district's 18 schools has grown from about 11,000 to more than 15,000 students. It is the third-largest district in the state, behind only Jefferson County (Louisville) and Fayette County (Lexington) and third-largest in the Tristate (behind Cincinnati Public, 40,347 and Lakota (16,351). Blavatt spoke to The Cincinnati Enquirer about key issues affecting the district.
QUESTION: For quite a while now, all the talk about the state's education system has been on the lack of funding. Do you believe the new administration in Frankfort will be able to fix this?
ANSWER: I really believe that the new administration is committed to working with education and to making the system effective. But it's going to take some time. If they're not committed to education, it's going to be a big problem because education has got to be the No. 1 priority for the state.
Q: State legislators allowed the fastest-growing school districts in the state to pass a "growth nickel tax" this year without voter approval in order to fund building projects. Your school board passed that tax. How important was that passage to Boone County?
A: Extremely. We're the fastest-growing district in the commonwealth, numbers-wise. We have to have the capability to keep up with new school construction. It was a courageous effort by our board, and the community has been tremendously supportive. Nobody likes to raise taxes, but the fact is that the health of our school district is a critical part of the quality of life here in Boone County, and I think the community recognizes that.
Q: There will be thousands of homes built in here over the next decade and probably beyond. Can Boone County schools keep up with that?
A: Yes. We've been proactive, and we keep in close contact with the planning commission to know the number of housing starts. Now if you'd asked me that two or three years ago, I'd have some questions about it. But I think the nickel tax has made a big difference, and we were able to secure qualified zone academy bonds that saved taxpayers about $1.2 million. We were able to retire those bonds in three years through community support.
Q: Is too much emphasis placed on testing today?
A: Yes, to an extent. You have to measure, and I think testing is a good way. If testing is for children - and to improve student performance - they should have the right to keep taking the test. But people have to recognize that testing is a snapshot, it's not a motion picture. And some of the regulations of (No Child Left Behind) are really geared to bureaucratic concerns rather than child concerns.
Q: Boone County Deputy Christine Heckel is certified by the state to teach an anti-terrorism class that she will be teaching to school teachers and administrators. She believes schools could be a prime target of terrorist attacks. How concerned are you about that - and are you prepared?
A: We specifically deal with preparation for all kinds of contingencies, including situations involving terrorists. We have a computerized evacuation plan, in case of any kind of a problem, for every one of our schools. We also have a mass communication device that, within a short period of time through the sheriff's office, can be in contact with parents. So we have some proactive steps. But are you ever totally prepared? No. I think the best thing you can do is have some form of contingency and preparedness plans, and then you have to be very lucky.
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